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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 32 New Delhi July 28, 2018

Activists and Academics draw Attention to Disturbing Trends in Jharkhand

Sunday 29 July 2018, by Bharat Dogra

It is a measure of the maturity of any democracy that it is able to identify any signs of increasing distress and the resulting discontent among people, particularly vulnerable sections of people, in time and take remedial steps to reduce distress and discontent before it is too late. Such a challenge exists before the State Government of Jharkhand today as there have been clear signs of increasing frustration and denial of legitimate aspirations among the vulnerable sections of people, particularly adivasis.

Our country can take legitimate pride in enacting some good legislations, some of a general nature and some aimed more specifically at the welfare of Scheduled Tribes. There is the law for food security, for right to employment guarantee in rural areas, the special law for extension of panchayati raj in Scheduled Areas and the Forest Rights Act (FRA).These laws are very relevant in the prevailing conditions of Jharkhand. Their proper implementation would have definitely improved the overall conditions of people, particularly the more vulnerable sections in remote villages. But what is the reality? Unfortunately the actual implementation of these laws has been poor and not in the right spirit.

There have been several disturbing reports from Jharkhand in recent times relating to reduced access of people to food security and social security, even hunger deaths and unjust acquisition of land. On the one hand some of the welfare and protective laws are not being implemented properly and on the other hand changes are being made in protective laws which are likely to have an adverse impact on vulnerable sections.

In these conditions over 50 activists from important social organisations like the National Alliance for People’s Movements, Campaign for Food Rights etc. have come together to issue a recent statement titled ‘Continuing Attacks on Right to Life in Jharkhand’. Some of these organisations have gone to the Supreme Court to take up cases of lack of proper implementation and violations of welfare laws. This statement is also supported by some senior members of the academic community and some lawyers.

This statement has pointed out that the government has been trying to acquire land of the Adivasis against their wishes while at the same time implementation and policy failures in welfare programmes such as the Public Distribution System and social security pensions have led to such increasing problems for the vulnerable people as to result in a spate of starvation deaths in the State in the recent past.

This statement points out that at least 12 persons have succumbed to starvation since September 2017. The immediate causes of these deaths include denial of subsidised rice due to absence of a ration card, cancellation of ration card not linked with Aadhaar and failure of Aadhaar-based biometric authentication at the ration shop. Denial of social security pensions and absence of work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) further contributed to the destitution of the starvation victims and their families. For every person who has died, hundreds other languish with hunger, undernutrition and illness.

This statement adds that despite widespread protests against amendments in the Land Acquisition Act, the government kept pressing for the amendments which substantially increase the possibilities of acquisition of land including fertile farmland. According to this statement, the State Government has also marked common lands of Adivasis (such as rivers/rivulets, village roads, ponds, places of worship, burial grounds and so on) as part of “land bank” without the consent of the respective Gram Sabhas. The bank consists of 20.56 lakh acres of land across the State. Of this, 10.56 lakh acres are already earmarked for the corporates with whom the government signed MoUs during Momentum Jharkhand. and 81 per cent of this area falls in the Fifth Scheduled Area.

The statement has expressed concern that the government is also repressing voices of dissent. There are further growing incidents of communal violence in the State. At least nine persons were lynched in the name of religion or cow protection in the last four years. Recently, two Muslim youths, accused of stealing buffaloes, were killed by a mob in Godda. In June, Nagri and Bero blocks of Ranchi also witnessed communal violence.

This statement calls upon the Opposition parties of Jharkhand to stand with the people against the continuing attacks on their right to life. At the same time the statement has placed several demands before the government:

• Universalise coverage of the Public Distribution System and social security pensions and ensure adequate work under NREGA in all the villages

• Remove mandatory linkage of welfare programmes with Aadhaar

• Withdraw amendments made in the Land Acquisition Act

• Stop creating land bank

• Notify rules of Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act (PESA) and implement the Act in its true spirit.

• Release Damodar Turi and others implicated falsely along with him

• Ensure communal harmony in the State and ensure equality and justice for minorities

• Ensure criminal action in all the cases of lynching and mob violence in the State.

One hopes that the State Government will respond positively to these demands.

The writer is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives.

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